". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Harvest Time

Several nights ago our church choir (of which my husband is the director and I am the accompanist) had its first rehearsal of the season. How good it was to once again be among these friends and fellow musicians, to see their smiling faces and hear the sweet sound of their voices singing our Lord's Gospel comfort. There is something remarkable about choir practice in its ability to make the world (at least my little corner of it) come to a screeching halt, if only for a little while. Somehow, for that hour-and-a-half rehearsal, everything else fades away and there is only the piano, the conductor, the choir, and the music on the page.

But last night was even more special than usual. Of the 32 singers in attendance, 7 of them (almost 25%) were high school students. In an age during which teenagers have a myriad of activities in which to participate (some worthy, some not), it was heartwarming to see these young men and women choose to spend their evening singing at church. How cool is that?

And yet it didn't happen overnight or by accident but as the result of seeds sown over time. My husband has been the cantor (director of music & worship) at our congregation for almost 8 years now. During that time (and throughout his career as a church musician), one of his dearest passions has been teaching children to sing, and particularly, teaching them to sing the hymns and liturgy of the Church. All of the young people who attended Thursday night's choir practice have grown up singing in my husband's children's choirs. They have parents who regularly bring them to worship and who actively participate in the life of the congregation. Now that they are confirmed, they are voting members of the congregation and are encouraged to participate as such. So rather than singing in a separate choir for high school youth, they are invited to continue their pattern of musical service to the church by becoming members of our adult choir.

As I watched my husband directing this first rehearsal of the year, gazing out at the faces of the young intermingled with the not-so-young, I knew that he was finding special joy in the presence of children who have been singing for him since they were 7 or 8 years old. I hope all those young people come back next week. I think they will. One of the most wonderful things about choir is that in the diversity of the participants it is a microcosm of the church and of the world. While the typical high school student today spends the majority of his time surrounded by people of his own age, that is not an accurate picture of real life. Choir on the other hand is a multi-generational activity. Several of the young people who attended, in fact, came with their parents, also members of the choir. The resulting scene, with old teaching young and young inspiring old, and the voices of all blending as they sang together the Lord's song, was a picture of heaven, where there will not be separate choirs (or worship services) for young and old but where all will sing together at the throne of the Lamb.

I'm looking forward to another little taste of heaven next week.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why We Homeschool, Part 1 - For the Family

Not long ago I wrote about why we began homeschooling. During the last few weeks, as our home life has been tossed hither and yon by various unexpected events, I have been reminded anew of why we continue to do so. Having previously promised a post on that very topic, I herewith offer the first of several outlining our reasons for embracing this way of life.

One of the common responses I receive when I tell people that we homeschool goes something like this: "Oh, I could never do that. You must be so organized! How do you manage to work part-time and run your house and teach your children, too?"

Yet as a parent who has had the experience both of homeschooling my children and of having them attend an institutional school, my reaction to those who do the latter is that I don't know how they do it. During the two years that my oldest child was a full-time student in a church school, I felt completely overwhelmed by the challenge of managing all the competing demands upon our family schedule. That feeling was exacerbated by the fact that my husband is a full-time church worker. As a church musician, he works many nights as well as Saturdays and Sundays; thus, his day off is Tuesday. What this meant when my son was in school is that he rarely saw his father. Family meals were exceedingly hard to come by, and when we managed them, they usually consisted of Dad showing up just in time to have a quick bite of supper before returning to church for this or that meeting or rehearsal. Moreover, it seemed to me that even though the school had possession of my son for seven hours per day, five days a week, it always wanted more. There were projects to complete, parent/teacher nights to attend, and homework to finish. My days had to be structured around getting my son to and from school. Whenever there was a conflict between school and family, it was usually family accommodating the demands of the school rather than vice versa. It all added up to our family getting lost in the shuffle and ultimately led to my feeling resentful and frustrated that our lives did not seem to be our own.

Now that we homeschool, family life has regained its rightful position as the focus of our daily existence. We start our days together with a family devotion before everyone goes about their various activities. On days that we are unable to have supper together as a family, the fact that the kids are home means we often manage to have breakfast or lunch together instead. When my husband is home on Tuesday, the children are able to benefit from and enjoy his presence. When life becomes complicated, as it did two weeks ago when my mother was seriously injured in a car accident, we can put school on hold while we tend to much more important concerns (and the children are around to make meaningful contributions). If a new baby comes home from the hospital, his or her siblings are there to share in those precious first days rather than sitting in a classroom missing out on a time that can never be recaptured. We take vacations when we want to, not when the school schedule says we can. If company is coming, housecleaning becomes much easier because there are many more hands on deck to share in the work! And because we homeschool, we have more hours to spend together as a family, resulting in a deeper understanding of and appreciation for one another and overall stronger family relationships. Rather than being peer-dependent, my children are family-dependent, and their closest and most valued relationships are the ones they have with their parents and siblings.

We have decided that homeschooling is the best way to serve the needs of our family. Next time I'll write about why we think it's also the best way to serve the needs of the individuals within that family.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Indecent Exposure

According to a recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta City Council is considering an amendment to the city's indecency laws that would make certain currently popular fashion trends illegal and thus punishable by fine. The common denominator among targeted styles is the revealing of the wearer's underwear: specific practices mentioned are excessively baggy pants (intended to reveal the boxer shorts or thongs underneath), sport bras worn as tops, and the showing of one's bra straps.

As one who often cringes at the sight of all the trends mentioned in the article (as well as some that are not), I find myself applauding this proposal and watching with interest to see if it succeeds in passing. (I would, however, encourage the proposal's sponsor to add ridiculously low-cut pants and excessive midriff-baring to his list of infractions.) But not surprisingly, opponents are already lining up to fight the measure. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, has stated that the law will not withstand a court challenge. If you're thinking that such a challenge would hinge on freedom of speech (expressed through one's clothing), think again. Instead, Seagraves says that the primary basis for fighting the law would be that it is discriminatory because it unfairly targets black youth.

Huh? I understand that overly baggy pants can be traced to rap culture, but I'm not sure the other styles being targeted share that origin. And even if they do, the time when rap culture was limited to the black population has long since passed. I live, work, and attend church in a predominately white, affluent Chicago suburb, and I commonly see people of all ethnicities and ages wearing many of the offending styles. (Truth be told, I don't see a lot of males in my age group wearing baggy pants, but I do see a surprising number of women my age & older wearing outfits that in my opinion they in particular have no business wearing.)

I'm curious to hear what others think of this attempt by members of the Atlanta City Council to legislate some decency and modesty among the residents of their city. Does it have any hope of succeeding? If the measure passes, it is enforceable? Or is the whole thing a waste of time? Certainly it is reasonable for our government to make laws requiring decency in dress and behavior--we have all kinds of rules against nudity, indecent exposure, public intoxication and disturbing of the peace--but is it realistic to start specifying what types of dress are acceptable?

I tend to think that to a certain extent the answer is yes. Underwear is underwear--it is not meant to be revealed, and I don't think I should have to avert my gaze to avoid seeing that of another person. But I am more conservative than most people. So I would be interested to hear what you think.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

That's My Girl!

It has just come to my attention that a certain lovely and gifted young lady who lives in my house was named a finalist in the HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Assocation) 2007 Poetry Contest.

Way to go, sweetheart! You're awesome!

Editor's note: I have received a request to share the poem's text. So here it is for your reading pleasure. FYI, the contest called for the writing of a sonnet on the theme "Side by Side."


If coat had not a closet nor a hook,
If choir had no music for its song,
If pencil had not paper nor a book,
The blankness of these things would quite alarm.
What happens when the tree is taken from
The soil, which needs the little lowly worm?
What happens to the planet with no sun?
It’s dark and cold, so barren and forlorn.
And yet these things can be shared, as they should.
(The choir and its music, coat and hook.
The worm in soil, and the tree of wood.
The paper, pencil, author and the book.)
You see them lone, they seem so desolate.
United, they are sights you won’t forget.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Musical Joke

A fellow musician shared the following link with my husband, who in turn shared it with me. I don't think you have to read music to appreciate the humor that may be found here. Be sure to zoom in and take time to appreciate all the hysterical details.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This Is Not a Rhetorical Question

Why is it that the three-year-old in my house always seems to wait until about five minutes into my short but absolutely essential midday doze to come tearing into the bedroom, gleefully shouting "I need to go potty, I need to go potty!"?

Talk about mixed feelings. Evan's Mommy wants to smile brightly and congratulate her little man for successfully recognizing and responding to his biological directive. Problem is, Evan's Mommy shares her skin with an exhausted, stressed-out middle-aged grump who finds it impossible to reclaim a nap once it has been so summarily and definitively interrupted.

Time to make some coffee.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Church Humor

A friend passed along these funnies, which I greatly appreciated because I could use a day brightener. I hope they make you smile, too.

1) Attending a wedding for the first time, a little girl whispered to her mother, "Why is the bride dressed in white?" to which the mother replied, "Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life." The child thought about this for a moment, then said, "So why is the groom wearing black?"

2) A little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, was running as fast as she could, trying not to be late for Bible class. As she ran she prayed, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late! Dear Lord, please don't let me be late!" While she was running and praying, she tripped on a curb and fell, getting her clothes dirty and tearing her dress. She got up, brushed herself off, and started running again. As she ran, she once again began to pray, "Dear Lord, please don't let me be late. . . But please, don't shove me either!"

3) Three boys are in the school yard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, "My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a poem, and they give him $50." The second boy says, "That's nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a song, and they give him $100." The third boy says, "I've got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a sermon, and it takes eight people to collect all the money!"

4) An elderly woman died last month. Having never married, she requested no male pallbearers. In her handwritten instructions for her memorial service, she wrote, "They wouldn't take me out while I was alive, I don't want them to take me out when I'm dead."

5) A police recruit was asked during the exam, "What would you do if you had to arrest your own mother?" He said, "Call for backup."

6) A Sunday School teacher asked her class why Joseph and Mary took Jesus with them to Jerusalem. A small child replied: "They couldn't get a babysitter."

7) A Sunday School teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to "Honor thy father and thy mother," she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?" Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, "Thou shall not kill."

8) At Sunday School they were teaching how God created everything, including human beings. Little Johnny seemed especially intent when they told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill and said, "Johnny, what is the matter?" Little Johnny responded, "I have pain in my side. I think I'm going to have a wife."

9) Two boys were walking home from Sunday School after hearing strong preaching on the devil. One said to the other, "What do you think about all this Satan stuff?" The other boy replied, "Well, you know how Santa Claus turned out. It's probably just your Dad."

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Peripeteia- noun. A sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances (from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed.). According to Aristotle, "a change by which the action veers round to its opposite" (Source).

Sometimes our days proceed in predictable ways. We look to the past and see a string of them behind us, blending one into another so that it is hard to tell them apart. We awake in the morning, do our chores, care for our children, go to our jobs, pay our bills, tend to our homes, enjoy our hobbies, spend time with friends, say our prayers, and go to sleep until it is time to arise and do it all again. Then suddenly something happens that irreversibly changes the rhythm and landscape of our existence.

Such an occurrence happened in the life of my mother this past week. On Wednesday morning she left her apartment to take care of errands and shopping. Later that day she planned to attend church in observance of the Assumption of Mary (my mother is Roman Catholic). There was no reason to believe the day would be anything but ordinary.

But at around 10:00 a.m. my mother experienced a peripeteia. As she was making a left hand turn on an unprotected green light, she was struck by an oncoming car. Her vehicle spun around and went out of control, prevented only by a guardrail from continuing into a nearby ditch. It took the paramedics 30 minutes to get her out of her car.

Four days later my mother is still in the Intensive Care Unit of our local hospital. She suffered an open fracture of her wrist, a broken sternum, several broken ribs, and a hematoma over her right breast. She is slowly improving, but when one is 77 years old and suffers from osteoporosis, recovery is neither quick nor easy. It is also not a foregone conclusion. My mother has some tough days ahead as she attempts to reclaim what her life was before the accident.

I believe she will do it. Several years ago she fell and broke her hip. Last year she fell again and broke her jaw. She recuperated from both of those injuries with more "joie de vivre" than I have seen from her in years. Her faith is strong, and she has much to live for. But my heart aches for what she has so far endured and for the difficulties she has yet to face. I think back to Wednesday morning, to that split second when the crash occurred. How different things would be today--and how different they would be for months to come--if that moment had played out just a little differently.

I know that a lot of regular readers of this blog are aware of my mother's accident and have already been praying for her. If, however, you are reading of these events for the first time and are so inclined, I would most appreciate your adding your prayers to those that are ongoing. In case you were wondering, my mom's name is Barbara.

"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34: 17-18)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What Was She Thinking?

This weekend on Fox News Sunday Chris Wallace interviewed Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. One of the questions he asked concerned her past financial support of pro-choice organizations, particularly a donation she made to Planned Parenthood in 1993. Her response was as follows:

"You know, a check for $100, written in 1993 . . . . I don’t even remember writing the check. I know today, I wouldn’t write the check. I mean, how do you remember all the checks you’ve written, you know, how many years ago was that?"

Sorry, Mrs. Romney, but this answer is not sufficient for me. Frankly, it just doesn't ring true. If you feel strongly enough about supporting an organization to donate that kind of money to it, you ought to remember doing so. So either you are not being truthful, or you are just another woefully out of touch millionaire politician. Neither speaks well of you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Singing School

Last week our church hosted a week-long children's Singing School. For those unfamiliar with the concept, here is a brief historical introduction courtesy of my husband (the Cantor):

"In the early part of the eighteenth century, the singing at American churches was a discordant noise. Since arriving in America, settlers had been singing hymn tunes from memory. With neither the aid of educated musicians nor the luxury of hymnals, the song of the Church had degenerated into musical chaos. Contributing to the problem was a pervasive attitude that 'scripted singing' restricted people's freedom of conscience. Not only did worshippers sing psalms and hymns according to how each remembered them; they stubbornly held to their own interpretations of the hymns, singing whatever notes and rhythms they pleased. While for some this allowed for heartfelt expressions of faith, this practice did not confess the harmony and unity of the body of Christ called for in 1 Corinthians 14:40 and Colossians 2:5.

"In the 1730's, several pastors in the New England area established Singing Schools, usually for a few weeks during the winter, in an effort to teach people how to read music. Though there was considerable opposition to these efforts, in time Singing Schools became very popular. They not only improved the quality of worship; they provided an acceptable social outlet. Over the next few decades, Singing Schools spread south and west, and they remain an institution to this day in Appalachia.

"Though many aspects of our Singing School are different from those of its historical model, the focus remains the same: to instill a love for singing the faith by passing on to the next generation the quality worship practices of the church. Students who attend (or who participate in one of our ongoing children's choirs) improve in their ability to read music while learning basic vocal technique and growing in their appreciation of the historic liturgy."

Approximately 20 children grades 3-8 attended the Singing School offered at our suburban Chicago LCMS church last week. They arrived daily at 9:30 and remained for the morning, finishing at 12:00. Here are some of the children warming up shortly after their arrival:

Each day began with a devotion and prayer led by the Cantor:

Then it was time to get down to work! The students received instruction and practice in solfege, music notation, and proper vocal technique, including posture, breath support, vocal production, pure vowels, and enunciation.

A frequent visitor was "Freddy the Good Chorister," who dropped in to model excellent mouth shape:

Here's Cantor demonstrating how not to form an "ee" sound (called a "pizza ee"):

Each morning of the Singing School included not only time to work on technique but time to learn and polish repertoire as well. These intense periods of learning and study were broken up by activities such as music bingo and other musical games, entertainment provided by special musical guests, head voice and long tone competitions (to see who could sing the highest and sustain a note for the longest period of time), and of course, snack time.

After the morning session was over and most of the children had departed, a smaller group of older students remained for some instruction and hands-on experience in handbells:

Singing School ran from Monday through Friday, but the week was not truly over until Sunday morning, when the children gathered to share the fruits of their efforts by providing music for the liturgy. Their contribution to the conregation's worship was not merely a cute children's anthem or two, but musical leadership that began with the prelude and continued until the closing hymn. The children led the assembly in the psalm of the day, sang several stanzas of hymns as well as a hymn descant, and provided several other special musical selections. They sang both in unison and in harmony, as a full choir and in small groups and solos. They sang not to celebrate themselves but to glorify God and sing faith into the hearts of His people. And that is indeed what they did this day.

Here are a few photos from the big day! I simply adore the lovely young lady pictured below--as my husband's music assistant her daily presence throughout the week meant that I was not only able to drop off my daughter rather than stay for the morning, but that on Sunday morning I was able to simply be "Mom" and sit in the pew with the rest of the congregation, soaking in the beautiful sounds of the choir.

Miss G.'s (soon to be Mrs. K.'s) talents are numerous. Not only does she play organ and piano, she conducts choir, too!
Couldn't resist one more pic of the Cantor (in case you hadn't noticed, I kind of like him):
Here are the children warming up moments before the beginning of worship. Note the excellent posture and holding of music. Our children's choirs normally wear choir robes, but because there were several children in attendance that had not previously sung in choir or been sized for a robe, we just instructed them to wear their "Sunday best."

Aren't they awesome?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Number 15 With A Bullet

Every two months the United States Chess Federation publicizes its Top 100 lists of the highest rated chess players in the country. There are lists for the overall best players as well as for the best players according to age. Our son Trevor, a seriously competitive chess player, has been a fixture on the list for his age group for a number of years now, climbing steadily from the nineties to the seventies to the forties (a big accomplishment because it meant he was in the top fifty) and finally to the twenties.

But his climb this summer has been particularly meteoric. In April of this year he showed up in the 24th spot for 14-year-olds--cause for celebration because he was finally in the top 25! In June he had moved to 20th place. In the most recent list, posted just days ago, Trevor has moved in to 15th position for his age group. A quick glance at the names ahead of his on the current list reveals that there is not a huge difference in ratings for those players in the 10th to 15th positions.

We stumbled on to the competitive chess scene when Trevor was in third grade. He had played casually with his dad since the age of 5 but didn't start studying the game seriously until the age of 8, when my husband saw an advertisement for a summer chess camp in Chicago. Trevor went to the camp and shortly thereafter started attending a chess club for homeschoolers. Within a few months, at the prompting of the dad who had organized the chess club, we started taking Trevor to tournaments. Later that year, to our utter and enduring amazement, Trevor took home the trophy for primary (K-3) Illinois state champion. We have been in the chess ether ever since and have seen Trevor place as high as fourth in national competition.

Trevor now studies chess with Yury Shulman, a grandmaster who is ranked 7th on the list for top overall players in the country. We think that Trevor has a good chance of some day qualifying to compete in the prestigious Denker Tournament of High School Champions, in which the winners receive USCF scholarships as well as the possibility of additional scholarship money from colleges and universities that maintain active chess programs and that seek to recruit strong chess players on to their chess teams. (This year's winner receives a full 4-year scholarship to Texas Tech University.)

We aren't sure where this chess odyssey will ultimately lead, but for the foreseeable future I think chess will continue to figure prominently in Trevor's (and thus his family's) life. And as long as he continues to enjoy what he is doing and to reap the benefits offered, we will support him as much as possible. Trevor's playing schedule typically slows down in the summer (there aren't as many local tournaments, and we can't afford the cost to take him elsewhere in the country). But fall is "chess season" in Chicago and the Midwest. So don't be surprised if chess is a recurring theme here at The Round Unvarnished Tale for the next few months.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why We Started Homeschooling

The first time I can remember hearing about this lifestyle called homeschooling was about ten years ago when my husband was directing a community children's chorus in Peoria, Illinois (I was serving as the piano accompanist). Several of the children in the choir did not attend area schools but instead were being educated at home. As we got to know these young people better, we became increasingly impressed with the attitude and commitment they demonstrated at rehearsals. Whereas some of their traditionally schooled peers seemed most interested in the social opportunity afforded by choir practice, the homeschooled students were without exception there for the musical and educational experience. They also exhibited a respect for their elders and a level of maturity that was not evident in some of the other choristers.

At about the same time, my husband and I were considering how best to serve the needs, educational and otherwise, of our oldest child. We had put him in preschool shortly after his third birthday (even though that birthday was in early October) and he had remained on that track, completing a second year of preschool the following year and starting kindergarten a month before the age of 5. Our decision for early schooling was due to our belief that because he was an intellectually precocious child he needed to be in school. Looking back on that decision, I am still amazed that it never occurred to us that the child who had already learned so much at home could not continue doing so! But my husband and I were both products of institutional education, and homeschooling was not something that either of us had ever heard of or encountered before.

When my son first entered preschool his behavior was that of a fairly typical 3-year-old boy. But as time went on we observed a change in him. He became quieter, less outgoing, and less aware of his surroundings. He had difficulty with eye contact, interpersonal communication and social interaction. Sometimes it seemed when people spoke to him that he didn't even notice or hear them. He was withdrawing into his own inner world.

I don't mean to suggest that schooling was responsible for the change in my son. He was ultimately diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, so I think the behaviors described above would have come about no matter what. But I can't help but wonder if the early schooling accelerated and exacerbated his condition. My son remained in school through first grade, at which time it was finally dawning on us that traditional schooling was not working for him. Although he was still academically far ahead of most of his peers, reading and doing math on a third or fourth grade level, he was in other ways--socially and physically--behind. And because of his shy and retiring nature, he was easily overlooked in a classroom of over 30 children. He needed an educational program that was tailored to him personally rather than to the broad middle of the spectrum.

Then one day it came to us: we could teach him ourselves! In fact we were already doing so, since we were the ones who had taught him to read, add and subtract before he ever set foot in a school, the ones who had continued teaching him at home because he was bored with what he was "learning" in school, and the ones who had taught him to play piano, sing and read music so well that he had no difficulty following hymns out of our hymnal. Couldn't we just take him home and keep on doing what we had already been doing?

We decided the answer was yes. At the beginning of his second grade year, we brought our son home. We were encouraged and shepherded in the first stages of our homeschooling adventure by the parents of those home educated children in our choir. They provided me with books, articles, curriculum catalogs and various other sources of information, not to mention moral support, as we inaugurated our homeschooling lifestyle. We are still in touch with several of them today.

I'll never forget our first day of "school." I was almost as nervous on this momentous day as I had been over 10 years earlier on my first day of student teaching. Here I was, an English major with a Master's degree in literature who had spent most of my adult life teaching students at the junior high, high school, and college levels. And yet the educational establishment had so indoctrinated me into their bureaucratic mindset that I didn't know if I could teach my own 6-year-old. After all, I didn't have training in elementary education! The few times I had substitute taught in elementary schools I had wanted to run screaming from the classroom! Could I really teach my own child?

Yes. I could, and I did, and I continue to do so (although I am becoming more and more expendable as he takes greater responsibility for his own learning). It has not always been easy (what am I saying?--it's never been easy!), but it has definitely been worth it. By teaching our son and then our daughter at home, my husband and I have been able to tailor each of our children's educational programs to their individual needs so that they can forge ahead in one subject while moving slowly in another, depending on what is called for at the time. We have also been able to continue nurturing them spiritually and emotionally, remaining the primary influence in their lives simply because they are with us. It is a decision we have never regretted.

That is why we started homeschooling. In the near future I'll write about why we have kept on doing so.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Happy New Year?

If I had designed the calendar I would have made August the last month of the year and September the first because to me September is the month which seems most like a beginning. It is the month in which I am personally most likely to initiate new projects and make "New Year's" resolutions (like starting and maintaining an exercise program . . . don't you dare laugh, honey!) I suppose that tendency comes in part from all my years in institutional schools: September historically signals not only a new school year but also new clothes, new books and school supplies, a new teacher, and a new daily schedule.

But I think there are other reasons why for me September suggests a beginning. I am a fair-skinned non-sun-worshipping type who does not tolerate heat well. So when fall comes I breathe a huge sigh of relief that I survived the summer, and I rejoice in the energizing effects of the cooler temperatures. September is the month in which my church also typically experiences a new beginning, as Sunday School classes resume (after an August break) and choirs return to their normal rehearsal schedules. It is also the month in which my piano students, many of whom have been on vacation at various times during the summer, return to their regular weekly lessons. So as all of these activities start in earnest I find myself reflecting upon my various responsibilities and thinking about how they are all going to fit into the big spreadsheet that is MY LIFE.

One of the most significant elements of that spreadsheet is the educating of my children. As a homeschooling family we don't experience a lot of the "back to school" trappings (we buy new clothes when we outgrow the old ones, new books when we finish the ones we have and new supplies when the previous ones run out; and sorry, kids, you're stuck with the same old sour-faced teacher this year as you had last year). Nevertheless, this time of year still seems to prod me to plan and to organize--to assess where we've been and to consider where we want to go. I am instilled with fresh hope that maybe this year, if I can get that aforementioned spreadsheet just right, things will run more smoothly than they ever have and I will manage to maintain some semblance of order and control.

But I've been at this homeschooling thing long enough to know that my micro-planning and managing are usually all for naught. So this year I'm going to try to think more about the big picture than the daily struggle. Where have we been in our homeschooling journey? And where do we want to go?

A few months ago, thanks to a link provided by Barbara Frank (a.k.a. The Imperfect Homeschooler), I discovered an excellent homeschooling blog entitled Principled Discovery. This week, Principled Discovery's author has linked to another homeschooling blogger who is writing a series of posts entitled Back to Homeschool Week and including her answers to such questions as why she and her husband decided to homeschool, how they go about doing so, how their family interacts with their community, what curriculum they use, and what they wish they had known. She has encouraged other homeschoolers to answer these questions as well and to link to her blog so that others may read the responses.

I am a little late jumping onto this train, so I'm not going to try to answer all of these questions in one week. I may not ever address them all. But over the next few weeks as I ponder the question "Where have we been?" I am going to try (note emphasis) to post on at least a few of them. If I get that far, then maybe I can give some thought to where we are going.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Looper R&R

My husband and I are confessional Lutherans. We're also homeschoolers. Each of those groups on its own is a pretty small percentage of the population. But a cross-section of the two is frankly not just a minority but a sub-culture. And our lifestyle and many of our beliefs are so different from the average American that some might even consider us to be counter-cultural.

Yet several years ago we discovered that there were OTHERS LIKE US. And it turns out many of them subscribe to an online email list called Martin Loopers. The discovery of this network of kindred spirits has been a blessing of immeasurable scope to our family, and particularly to me. I am so thankful to have the freedom to homeschool and to have a husband who fully supports me in that effort. And I love spending my days with my children and knowing that because they are with me we are maintaining the primacy of faith and family in our daily lives. But I also acknowledge that the life of a homeschooling mom is not easy and that sometimes the task before me is daunting and my sense of isolation hard to overcome.

That's where the "Loopers" come in. This group of fellow homeschooling Lutherans has provided me with a sense of community that I previously did not enjoy, a place to exchange ideas, ask questions, celebrate each other's joys and share in each other's sorrows. We encourage, pray for, and sometimes yes, even correct each other. We certainly don't agree on everything, but the common ground that we share provides a safe forum in which to explore those differences. No matter how heated the discussion may sometimes get, the community remains. It's very much like a family that you know will never turn you away.

So considering how I feel about my dear Loopers, you can see why I was excited to the point of distraction as this past weekend approached. For on Saturday morning over forty Loopers descended on my church for a day of fun, food, and fellowship. We ate, talked, played, laughed, sang and worshiped together. Here without further delay are some photos of a day I will long remember.

I think they're ready for seconds, don't you? Pictured are Cantor M., ElephantsChild & Mad Musician & Clark E. (in profile in the distance).

New friends and old (Lora, Suzanne--one of my co-hosts--and Ruth). Some of the younger generation are in the background.

Laura and foster child Benjamin (one of the happiest babies I have ever seen, and oh, how he loves Laura).

Lori & Pastor Paul M., my other co-hosts for the day. Thank you, Pastor, for your grilling expertise!

Susan (and no, that's not beer, but Susan's own homemade kombucha in the bottle).

Very old friends (Michelle, whose hubby kept Pastor M. company while he was grilling in the hot sun, and yes, the other one is me).

Looper kids & friends playing water balloon games (thanks again to Pastor M. for supervising this activity--boy, Pastor, you really got around!).

One of the special treats of this weekend was having a Looper family stay in our house for the very first time. I must admit I was a little nervous, wanting to be a good host and fearing I would not succeed. And wouldn't you know it, the toilet that has been on its last legs (not sure about that metaphor, but I can't think of a better one right now) picked this weekend to die for good. So our poor houseguests did not have a working toilet in the bathroom in which they had to take their showers. But they gamely adapted and seemed not too worse for the wear.

Here's proof that Looper kids only engage in educational activities when they get together in groups (pictured are Evan, Chris, Caitlin, and Maggie):

Here are Maggie, Lora & Chris minus Pastor Jeff, who had to stay home to preside over worship services (and yes, that is a church pew in our living room--told you we were counter-cultural):

Time for new friends to say goodbye (left to right are Evan, Maggie, Caitlin, Trevor & Chris, with Shiloh the beagle in front):

I only have two regrets about the day. First, I wish that I had taken more pictures, especially of the children (it seemed they were constantly scattered), and that I had assembled everyone for a group shot. Second, I wish the day could have been two or three days instead of only one. There just wasn't suficient time to sit down and talk to everyone as I would have liked (except Lora of course--and what a blessing to get to know her and her family better). All the more reason to seek future opportunities to see these dear friends again (and the many others I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting)!


Just had to post this photo of today's tomato pickings from our garden. To the more seasoned practitioners of husbandry out there it may not look like much. But to us neophytes it's a momentous event: the first day I was not able to hold the day's haul in one hand!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Time To Read Some Austen

I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen so have not read many of her books (and the ones that I have read are a distant memory), but I am a sucker for a personality quiz. This one has appeared on the blogs of a few friends, so I couldn't resist taking my turn. Based on my result, I think this may be a fairly accurate personality test. Then again, I wonder if anyone ever scores as one of the really unlikeable characters!

You scored as Elinor Dashwood. As Marianne's older sister, Elinor lives at the other end of the emotional spectrum. She rarely reveals her intense feelings and is more concerned with being honest and loyal than having what she deserves. Even though her intentions are pure, she sets herself up for loss by constantly placing other people before her own needs. Overall, Elinor is gentle and rational but is just as capable of radical emotions (despite her withholding them) as her sister.

Elinor Dashwood


Elizabeth Bennet


Jane Bennet


Marianne Dashwood


Charlotte Lucas


Emma Woodhouse


Lady Catherine


Which Jane Austen Character are You? (For Females) Long Quiz!!!
created with QuizFarm.com

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Budget Cutting

(I know, I know, I said I was going to be quiet this week. And I am. Soon.)

Our family budget is not working. There are exceedingly more ways that we can think of to spend money than there is money to spend. And the unfunded expenditures are not luxury items but things like necessary home maintenance (broken toilets don't just go away because you pretend they aren't there).

So what's the answer? Pretty simple, really--either more money coming in or less money going out. As we look at our family schedule it is hard right now to see how we might fit in more wage-earning hours. So our attention has turned to finding ways to cut spending.

Since we have to pay the mortgage and property taxes, keep the house relatively comfy and lighted, clothe and feed ourselves, fuel and maintain the cars, teach our kids and take care of our health, there are only so many places to look for savings. Certainly we can try to do all these things as economically as possible (except for the mortgage and property taxes--they are what they are), but there is a point beyond which we can't be any cheaper than we are already being. So we have to look elsewhere.

That essentially leaves recreation and entertainment. We already eat out rarely, if ever (usually when we do it's because someone gave us a gift card to a restaurant). We don't go on vacations (except for the yearly trek to visit family in Texas) unless they're handed to us on a silver platter (as in our "Galena Getaway"). We don't go out to movies (or on other family outings such as miniature golf or bowling) because we just can't afford it. We do subscribe to Netflix (bargain basement package, $4.99/month), and our kids like their video games, but those are purchased out of Christmas/birthday funds or with their own money.

So with a recreation/entertainment budget that is already fairly Scrooge-ish, what's left to cut?

Here's what we have come up with initially. The magazine subscriptions are going by the wayside. Over the last few years we have already cancelled several, so there aren't that many left. But--considering the fact that we can and do get most of our news free online these days-- when the World and National Review renewals come in we will be wishing those enterprises well and letting them go until such time in the future as our bottom line changes. Savings: $120/year (or more).

We have also taken a hard look at our cable subscription. Currently we susbscribe to Comcast's "standard package" for cable television at a cost of a whopping $52.49 per month. There is only one package that is cheaper: the basic package at $15.49 per month. We subscribed to the higher-priced package because it includes several stations enjoyed by various members of our family (Fox News Channel, ESPN, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and TV Land). But there are many, many stations that we never watch. So the question is whether or not the few stations we do enjoy are worth $37 per month. We have decided the answer is no. So in the near future we will be downgrading our cable service. Savings: $444/year.

The frustrating aspect of this is the limited choice of cable packages that are available. Why must there be such a huge jump from the bottom package to the next package up? Why not allow consumers to purchase stations a la carte and to pay only for what they really want? Senator John McCain is among those asking the same question. Maybe if he and others are able to get some answers it won't be long before we get some of our favorite channels back. But in the meantime, we will continue to enjoy network programming (and we may just boost that Netflix account up to the next level to allow a few more movies to come our way).

Hmmm. . . suddenly we are looking at $564 additional dollars in our hot little hands. New toilet, here we come!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


It will be a quiet week here at the Round Unvarnish'd Tale. I am busily anticipating and preparing for a gathering of Lutheran homeschooling families to take place at my church this weekend. Most but not all subscribe to Martin Loopers, a listserv for confessional Lutheran homeschoolers to which I also subscribe. Some I have already had the pleasure of meeting in person, but others I have not (although we have "met" and conversed online). It promises to be a great day of food, fun and fellowship for children and their parents alike as we relax, play, and encourage each other in our homeschooling journeys. I am particularly excited that I will finally get to meet the Rebellious Pastor's Wife, one of the smartest and most interesting women I have discovered in the blogosphere. In fact, she and her family will be spending the weekend at my house! Check back next week for a full report and photos.

In the meantime, here are a couple of short but thought-provoking links. First, read about an Algerian prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who is fighting to stay in a U.S. prison rather than be returned to his own country.

Second, take a peek at socialized medicine in practice and find out why Tom Cruise would be considered too fat to get a hip replacement if he lived in the United Kingdom.